Help me design a great résumé, please?
April 12, 2012 8:54 AM   Subscribe

Résumé design advice needed! Details within.

I'm updating my wife's and my résumé, and it's been quite a while since either of us have looked for work. (10+ years for both of us -- we're both in our late 30's.) I work in a creative marketing field. She handles logistics and event planning for a non-profit.

Our old resumes were a very simple, straightforward format: All black text, descriptions and bulleted text for responsibilities / accomplishments. In an age of LinkedIn and high competition, is that still the best way to go? Or should we be doing something flashier?

I see sites that design spectacular-looking resumes, and I think I can do something like that myself. But while I would like to create a resume that stands out, I'm afraid of detracting / distracting from the content.

Any advice you can offer regarding formatting, style, what to or not to include, or simply what you think makes a résumé memorable and its owner a desirable job candidate would be hugely appreciated. Thank you!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (18 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Content is still king in a resume. People scan resumes for about 20 seconds. If adding a graphic or design element can help make your point better in that 20 seconds than it is worth thinking about it. Designing up your resume just for the sake of adding design elements is wasted effort though.

If you were hiring for somebody to manage a large web site, and you got a resume with name address, etc and a single line of centered 30 pt text that said, Founder and CEO, and affiliated sites, you'd call that guy right?

I would.
posted by COD at 9:06 AM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Perhaps insightful, Business Insider's What Recruiters Look At During The 6 Seconds They Spend On Your Resume
posted by bz at 9:27 AM on April 12, 2012

I look at resumes every day. I skim over them looking for key words related to the position I'm trying to fill. So make up the resume with the specific job posting in mind - the tasks, the responsibilities and the qualifications required. Is the job delivering workshops to seniors on the topic of 17th century French Literature? Play up your experience with seniors, with teaching, and your Lit degree. Everyone who reads resumes has different favourite formats and different formats that set our teeth on edge. There is no one single right way. Just make sure that the bullets on the resume you send in relate directly to the job you are applying for.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 9:34 AM on April 12, 2012

-one page
-a standard font, no smaller than 11pt
-no spelling/grammatical errors (those go directly to the circular file)
-do NOT use an objective - if I have your resume, I assume your objective is to get the job for which you've applied (another direct-to-circular-file infraction)

Using a table in Word but hiding all of the cell borders is a good way to ensure that everything is properly aligned.
posted by melissasaurus at 9:37 AM on April 12, 2012

melissasaurus: "one page"

This is probably very good advice for the OP since it appears neither of them have moved frequently between jobs.

But many people have had multiple jobs by the time they reach their late 30's. I know I find it impossible to restrict my resume to one page -- each position was unique and often relevant to the job I'm applying for.

Do you view one page as a hard limit -- even for folks whose careers span a decade or two? Wouldn't that mean the average job seeker would need to leave stuff off?
posted by zarq at 9:46 AM on April 12, 2012

Do you view one page as a hard limit -- even for folks whose careers span a decade or two? Wouldn't that mean the average job seeker would need to leave stuff off?

Yes. You should figure out which items are the most important and present those. Most places will have a stack of resumes, being reviewed by a person with little time for each, and you have one chance to make an impression. If you can't figure out how to be concise and prioritize your accomplishments into one page, it doesn't make a very good impression. I often won't even flip to a second page because it would interrupt my workflow.
posted by melissasaurus at 9:52 AM on April 12, 2012

As a mid-30s professional is a one page A4 really a strict thing? I think for many people that would mean editing pretty hard. Is that true?

When I was in hiring I would often get 2-3 page resumes even for graduates. I don't remember being particularly dismissive of them.
posted by mary8nne at 9:55 AM on April 12, 2012

As a mid-30s professional is a one page A4 really a strict thing?

It's my recollection that the "rules" are different for the UK and the US (and submitting a resume on A4 in the US would be its own separate issue, as it's an odd size here). I think most people here are talking from a US perspective where, yes, it's a pretty strict thing.
posted by brainmouse at 9:59 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

The one page thing is not true after you've had a few professional jobs. There's being concise and there's eliminating your chances by not accurately illustrating your experience. I've had no problem finding jobs using a two page resume. My mother's resume is 5 pages and I can assure you she has no problem finding jobs either.
posted by Kimberly at 10:03 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I see a one page resume from a seasoned professional I immediately wonder what they are hiding in their background. Of course, that assumes that I actually printed a resume onto paper, which I haven't done in years.
posted by COD at 10:04 AM on April 12, 2012

This is what I was saying above about every reader having different preferences. One page? Two pages? I have nothing at all against a two-page resume. A one-pager would be unusual. A three-pager on the other hand will get an immediate discard.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 10:19 AM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm currently looking for jobs and have a resume that I made in indesign(it looks like it was "designed") and one that I made in MS word with tables and whatnot. Both have the same content. I've gotten feedback that basically told me that I should take into account the organization itself when deciding which resume to send - but in many cases I've found it is difficult to judge.

I had a couple of interviews where I was specifically told that they loved my designed resume and that it made me stand out from the stack of resumes in a good way, and then I've also been told by another place that I should make my resume more conservative. All of this was unsolicited so I assume they were just being honest.

Mine is one page because I am a relatively recent grad, but I used to work in hiring as well and most people seemed to use two pages.
posted by fromageball at 10:23 AM on April 12, 2012

I had a similar experience in my last search. I put a single design element on my resume - a Venn diagram. Several people told me they decided to interview me on that fact alone. One large telecommunications provider called me and asked me to take the Venn diagram off before they forwarded my resume to the hiring manager, as it would confuse him. I told them that fact took that manager out of the running to be my next boss :) (I'm an enterprise sales guy, so a Venn diagram is definitely an unusual addition to a sales resume).

So to amend my original comment...

To some extent, doing something different with your resume can act as a screening tool. If you want to work for a more forward thinking company, your designed resume may screen out more conservative firms. Of course, this assumes you are in a position to be picky.

When to play it safe and go traditional or swing for the fences with a "different" resume is not something anybody here can tell you.
posted by COD at 10:56 AM on April 12, 2012

I read resumes and absolutely do not care if they are longer than one page. If someone has had a career for 15-40 years, fitting all that information on a single page is going to involve some serious design compromises that will make it really hard to read. Don't go crazy and make it 10 pages but I think 2-4 is fine.

As far as formatting, I prefer the traditional approach:

- Name

- Contact info (DO NOT leave off your address, phone, or email - can't believe how many people do this)

- Perhaps a brief summary

- Employment history in reverse chronological order

- Credentials/certifications/publications/awards

- Education

posted by The Lamplighter at 11:28 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would much rather read a 2 page resume in a normal sized font with wide enough margins and spacing to be easy to read than read a 1 page resume where the candidate has tried to squeeze way too many words onto the page. If you have more legitimate, relevant experience than will fit on one page, please use two, because I'm much more likely to read a second page than I am to read anything in 9 point font with no margins.

Back to the original question, I prefer the traditional format. I think that even in a creative field, employers are looking for someone who can do great work in lots of different contexts. That means that when you're asked for a resume, you demonstrate an understand that resumes aren't supposed to be full of colors and pictures and other glitzy trappings. The content is the king, and you want to choose a design that is visually crisp and clean, not something flashy that makes the design the story. So yes, black and white, bullet points, etc. You can choose a nicer (though still conservative) font and design the layout to be pleasing to the eye so that the reader gets a good feeling from looking at the page, but isn't remarking on the presentation instead of on the actual content.
posted by decathecting at 11:39 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Graphic designers are trained to organize text on a page in an aesthetically satisfying manner. So I search for resumes of graphic designers online and copy the ones I like. But I work in design myself (not graphic though) so I can get away with a non-standard resume.
posted by Dragonness at 12:47 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, one thing I quite like is putting a client quote in the margin in italics or in a different colour. The margin needs to be a good size to allow for this.
posted by Dragonness at 12:50 PM on April 12, 2012

I've had positive feedback on having a bullet list in columns of skills separated by headers (e.g., Technical, Business, Accounting, whatever). It allows the reader to quickly get a measure of what i can do. I put this before the chronological job section.

Don't feel like you have to list every single thing you've done. The job of the resume is to get you an interview. There should be one main message from each job you want to convey, put it at top. Use the rest to reinforce that message. Having a bunch of disconnected points won't leave a coherent impression. Numbers are good: "reduced operational costs by 35%;" "managed department with $500K budget," etc.

Finally, reduce it as much as you can. I don't subscribe to the one page rule, but I've seen resumes for people in their early 30s that are 6 pages long and it's actually made me angry because my job is not to just read resumes. (It also tells me they don't know how to prioritize what is important.)
posted by sfkiddo at 10:57 PM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

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